Shopping in Lisbon can turn out a truly amazing experience which will make you go back in time and feel as if you were visiting a museum. As Portugal remained neutral during the World War 2, Lisbon avoided the sad fate of many other European cities and managed to preserve the beautiful architecture of the pre-war era with ornate Art Nouveau and classy Art Deco facades. Since Lisboners seem to value tradition and know that “an oldie can be a goodie” and as rents in the old town and downtown tend to be relatively low, the city is studded with beautiful, family-owned shops and businesses handed down from parent to offspring since as early as the beginning of the 20th or even the 19th century. Set your foot in one of those charming premises and you’ll be transported to an enchanted world with antique furniture, vintage shop equipment and a polite shop assistant or owner wearing smart clothes, tie or even a bow-tie, who undoubtedly knows how to treat his customers with due, old-fashioned respect. In those little temples of traditional commerce, you’ll find good quality, often custom-made Portuguese products, be they hats, umbrellas, ties or gloves.
Such is the surrealistically adorable Luvaria Ulisses - quite possibly the tiniest shop in the world - with space reserved for only one customer at a time, quite possibly to provide that customer with the best possible service. The last shop in Portugal dedicated exclusively to the sale of leather gloves has been run, since 1925, by the same family, whose subsequent generations have proudly preserved intact the manufacturing process consisting in sewing custom-made gloves for ladies and gentlemen out of the highest quality leather searched for in the whole world. What has also remained unchanged is the Art Deco façade and interior of the premises, located at Rua do Carmo 87-A, which dates back from the time when the founder of Luvaria Ulisses, who was a city council member, applied for a permission to arrange a shop in this then neglected area of the Chiado district, which is nowadays the shopping heart of the city. The customer service also seems to follow the “if something is good, why should we change it?” pattern. All you have to do is to rest you elbow on a cushion. The owner – Mr Carlos Carvalho - will take your measurements to commission a hand-made gloves for you or, if you like some of the showcased models – will put some talc on your palm to make it easier for you to try on a pair of gloves whose size he will assess perfectly with his practiced eye. In the meantime, he will gladly tell you about the beautiful gloves which fit like a second skin. While maintaining its classic design and quality, they have been added some modern elements – like fashionable cork finishes – over the times. Once you leave the Luvaria, don’t forget to take a look at the beautiful, elaborate façade and shop window of Joalharia do Carmo - one of the best and oldest jewellery shops in Lisbon.
If food shopping is what you like, visit Casa Pereira at 38, Rua Garrett– another family business with more than 80 years of history which will lure you with enticing aromas of biscuits, chocolates, teas and coffees exported from Portugal’s former colonies. The old, marble counter where delicious products are displayed and giant, vintage scales painted in bright pink are definitely worth taking a glimpse.
If you’re a bookworm, go further along Rua Garrett until you reach number 73-75 and you’ll be delighted to see that you’re in front of the Livraria Bertrand - the oldest bookstore in the world, as confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records. It was founded by two Bertrand brothers as early as in 1732 and has a cozy, stylish interior with an arched ceiling and wood carved furniture.
If you’re with kids, don’t forget to drop in to one of the most peculiar and coolest toy stores in the world – Hospital de Bonecas at 7, Praça da Figueira. Hospital de Bonecas means a doll hospital in Portuguese and, indeed, this store and repair workshop is arranged like a true hospital, divided into specialized rooms like the plastic surgery one where the dolls’ faces are retouched or restored or the traumatology room where they get new legs, arms or heads.
Any true shopping addict who walks through the city and watches all those beautiful shops from the early 20th century, inevitably starts being nostalgic and can’t help but regretting not having been born in those wonderful times when interior design standards were so incredibly high and shop owners had to make a real effort to attract a customer with aesthetically appealing premises. It’s enough to get a glimpse of the Leitaria A Camponesa at Rua das Sapateiros in Baixa which is nothing more than a dairy shop, but whose façade and internal walls covered with blue-and-white azulejo depictions of milkmaids and farmers could find their way into the most luxurious contemporary restaurants…